Developer: Surreal Software
Release Date: March 8, 2004
In retrospect, casting a prison as the backdrop for Surreal Software’s The Suffering was a really good choice. Not only do prisons have a naturally degrading feel to them that corrodes inmates morale and senses, if you turn the lights out and throw in a few sadistically designed demons hell bent on disemboweling you it ends up becoming a downright creepy experience. The Suffering isn’t really as scary as one might think it would be, but it can be quite a disturbing ride.
The protagonist in The Suffering is Torque, a man who is on death row for a crime he may or may not have committed. You see, Torque’s wife and son were murdered and during the time it occurred Torque blacked out. After being convicted of the murders of his family Torque was sentenced to death and sent to Abbott State Penitentiary, a facility with a less-than shining history. Throughout the game, as Torque you not only battle demons of the physical kind but also his inner demons as he suffers flashback after flashback trying to remember if he did in fact kill his family.
Almost as soon as Torque arrived at Abbott and entered his cell, it seems that hell itself opened up inside of the penitentiary. Strange creatures sprang forth from out of nowhere and began to brutally kill both guard and inmate alike. The sole survivor in his cell block, Torque initially is only armed with a shiv, a makeshift blade. Throughout the course of the game Torque will acquire and use revolvers (Either one at a time or akimbo), tommy guns, shotguns, and even such weaponry as flashbangs to blind adversaries. Flashlights can be used to cast light into dark areas, which are powered by batteries. No batteries equals no light, which can be absolutely fatal when in a dark room.
One thing that sets The Suffering apart from games such as Resident Evil and other survival horror games is that Torque is no pushover. Ammo is rarely in low supply as long as the player has decent aim, and Torque himself can shrug off needles full of chemicals and round after round fired from a guard’s revolver. That’s not to say Torque is invincible, and to ease the pain from his wounds Torque can consume bottles of Xobium, a powerful painkiller. After considerable stress, indicated by an insanity meter, Torque can temporarily manifest his inner demons, transforming himself into a hulking creature with blades protruding from his body. In this from Torque can still take damage but can also rip enemy creatures apart with brutal attacks. Staying too long in this form is fatal however, and should Torque stay in this form too long he loses his mind permanently.
The Suffering is a dark game, both in the physical and the metaphorical sense. In the former, many areas in Abbott are blanketed in darkness, hiding enemies and disorienting the player should they not use their flashlight. However, some dark rooms have a light switch that will illuminate the room, though you still need a flashlight to find said switch. In the latter sense of the word, The Suffering is probably one of the more disturbing games you are bound to find on the market. Guards are hung by their necks with their lower torsos missing and their entrails hanging out, inmates are crucified to the walls with hypodermic needles, and people get skewered top-down through the head with 2 foot blades. It’s grotesque, slightly horrifying, and morbidly fascinating all at the same time.
There are various types of creatures that Torque will have to battle through, which not only are all fairly original creations they really seem to have been designed by a creative mind and modeled with a keen eye for detail. Every creature in the game is based upon a style of execution that has been used at Abbott. The “Slayer” is a humanlike monstrosity with blades instead of limbs below the kneecap and past the elbow, and their heads are severed from their torso and instead suspended via flesh-covered metal rods. The “Mainliner” is an impish little creature with hypodermic needles for eyes and rows of them stuck in its back. To attack, the creature rips the needles out of its back and throws them at you, which not only injure Torque but blur his vision. The “Marksman” creature is slightly less outright horrifying, which is what would be a normal 7ft human being, until you notice the blindfold around its eyes and the pulpy mass of flesh on its back that holds a few assault rifles that can pivot and fire on you.
Torque may or may not have killed his family, and the actions in the game that the player takes directly affect the final conclusion. In many parts of the game you will encounter experiences that give the player choice, such as either shooting or helping a guard, or killing a man trapped in the gas chamber. Fighting for your will are two voices, once of which from your dead wife who tries to make you follow the path of compassion and the other from a devilish voice whom tries to coerce you into killing anyone who stands in your way. Follow one more than the other and Torque may turn out to be an innocent man placed on death row or a truly psychotic murder who has been sentenced exactly as he should.
A really nice feature that is found in The Suffering is the first person mode. In most third person games the first person mode is more like an afterthought than anything else. Sure you can view in first person and look around but you cant move, or something similar. In The Suffering you can effectively play through the entire game in first person, where you actually see your guns just as you would in a FPS. It is obvious that the game wasn’t intended to solely be a FPS as the control is a bit loose and many objects lose their detail when your viewpoint is inches away, but it does lend for a much more engaging experience. At the very least the player can choose which viewpoint they want to use, and can change it on the fly if they so desire.
It bears mentioning that the lack of detail is pretty much limited to the above scenario. As a whole the environments in The Suffering are all well thought out and largely detailed. Blood effects actually look like they were strewn about in the chaos of combat rather than decals drawn by a graphic artist, an effect that many games fail to achieve. The lighting effects in the game are no Splinter Cell, though the suspense generated by the flashlight illuminating a dark room while the rest of the room could hold any number of hideous creatures works just fine. When wounded Torque and his guns become coated in blood, a visual indicator that you just went through a rough time when that group of Slayers jumped you. Enemies lose body parts when shot at, but the effect goes by largely unnoticed most of the time since the action happens so quickly there isn’t much time to admire that missing head when another enemy is bearing down on you.
The Sufferings creepiness isn’t limited to its visuals however, as sometimes what you don’t see but can merely hear can be much more effective in that regard. Slayers walking around make little tink-tink-tink, or give a long scraping sound as they skid on the ground after trying to dive at you or as they grind their blades along the walls in a distant hallway. The screams of guards sound realistic, given the fact they usually die in the most creative and brutal ways, and the grunts, screams, and other vocals given off by the various demons and creatures all sound otherworldly and unique. When Torque, armed inmates, or prison guards let their guns do the talking it is definitely noticeable, and while the sounds don’t pack quite as much punch as they could, they do sound powerful in their own right.
It may not be the scariest game ever made as the ads make it out to be, but The Suffering is sufficiently dark and creepy to keep gamers on edge and entertained throughout the duration. The main characters strength and durability as well as the bountiful ammo makes the game feel much more like an action game than anything else, which is in start contrast to games like Resident Evil or System Shock where you must make every bullet count and occasionally evade combat rather than take it head on. The ability to play through the game in the first person viewpoint really does kick up the immersion and suspense factor, as you lose the vision of your sides and immediately behind you that you have in third person view. The imaginative enemies and plot doesn’t hurt the game at all either and the ability to find out who exactly Torque is, innocent or guilty, is a rather compelling reason to play the game through to the finale. In the end though, the plot itself isn’t the only reason you will want to finish the game as The Suffering is a morbidly entertaining ride not only grounded in an imaginative plot but also couple with quality gameplay.
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